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12 posts from July 2016

07/31/2016

~ The Persian-Style Ground Beef or Lamb Kababba ~

IMG_9664"Kabbaba" is the ancient Aramaic word for "to char" or "to burn", and medieval Persian soldiers, who used their swords as instruments to grill food over open fires in the field of battle, are credited with inventing "kabobs".  It was only natural that this simple method of cooking food on a "sikh", a metal skewer, made its way into the kitchens of the royal houses, onto the tables of the common folk and into the streets, where vendors cooked and sold them for breakfast, lunch and dinner placed onto or inside some form of flatbread.  Kabobs are a source of national pride and they are served in various ways everyday, everywhere for any and all occasions.    

The kabab is the national dish of Iran & "kabab koobideh" is their signature kabob.

P21024bWhile kabobs in general are a source of national pride, for a cook, a great "koobideh" recipe is a matter of personal pride.  Koobideh (koo-bi-day) refers to the way the meat (beef &/or lamb, or, chicken) is prepared. Originally it was placed on a flat stone and smashed with a mallet.   Nowadays it's purchased ground or ground in a hand-crank meat grinder or in a food processor, then mixed with onion, parsley, egg and a few Persian spices. It's similar to an American meatloaf mixture. The mixture is pressed onto swordlike skewers, grilled for a few minutes and served with fire-roasted tomatoes and basmati saffron rice.

The ground meat is mixed with a few Persian spices:

IMG_9588Sumac (SOO-mac) is the fruit of a bush, native to the Middle East (most notably Iran) and the Mediterranean (most notably Southern Italy).  It comes from the Arabic word "summaq", meaning "red", and, it produces brick red to dark purple berries, which are picked just before they ripen, sun-dried and ground into fine-to-coarse powder with a tangy, distinctly lemon flavor.  It's an essential Arabic pantry spice being preferred to lemon for sourness, and, it was widely-used as a souring agent throughout Europe prior to the introduction of lemons by the Romans.*  It's used in spice blends (it's the main ingredient in za' atar), dry rubs, marinades, dressings and dips, as well as a versatile condiment sprinkled over beef, lamb, chicken, fish, vegetables, rice and grains.

*The origin of the lemon is unknown.  They are thought to have first grown in Northeast India, Northern Burma or China.  They entered Europe in Southern Italy no later than the first century AD during the time of Ancient Rome.  They were introduced to Persia and then into Iraq and Egypt around 700 AD and were used as an ornamental plant in early Islamic gardens.

IMG_9591Turmeric (TER-muh-rhk) is a rhizome of an herbaceous plant of the ginger family native to Southern Asia.  When not used fresh (just like using fresh ginger), the rhizomes are boiled for 30-45 minutes, dried in hot ovens, then ground to a deep orange-yellow powder with an earthy, slightly bitter, slightly peppery flavor.  It's used for both its color and flavor in Asian, Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani savory dishes and curries.  It's an essential Arabic pantry spice too, and, many Persian dishes use turmeric as a starter ingredient -- almost all Iranian "khoresht" dishes (meaning "stews") are started by making a mixture of onions caramelized in oil and turmeric, with other ingredients to follow as the recipe progresses.

IMG_9631The ground meat mixture is pressed onto swordlike skewers:

IMG_9347

Everyone, everywhere loves to eat food cooked on a stick, and, every country and culture has their own traditional recipes and methods, but, for me, perhaps the most fascinating is the Persian-style ground-meat kabob.  The recipe I am sharing, is authentic to the best of my ability. I've never traveled to Iran, but I do have an Iranian-American neighbor, and, thanks to Lily's mother, who is a fantastic Persian cook, I have confidence in the few Persian recipes I can post.

IMG_9600~ Step 1.  In traditional recipes, the onion and garlic are grated on a box grater and then the juices are strained out through a cheesecloth. In my kitchen, the food processor and a few paper towels make very short work of this task.  

1 medium yellow or sweet onion, peeled, coarsely chopped (8 ounces chopped onion)

6  large garlic cloves (1 ounce)

IMG_9604 IMG_9602In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade  place the chopped onion and whole garlic cloves.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to just short of a puree.  

Transfer the vegetables to a paper-towel-lined plate, gather up the paper towels and by squeezing the IMG_9612 IMG_9610                                         package, allow them to absorb as much moisture as they can. Replace the paper towels and repeat this process two more times.

IMG_9616You will have 3/4 cup of almost totally moisture-free grated onion and garlic.

IMG_9619~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, combine:

1 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10) or lamb, or, a combination

3/4  cup grated onion and garlic mixture

1/4  cup minced, fresh parsley

1  teaspoon each: sumac, turmeric, sea salt, cracked or coarsely-ground black pepper

2  large egg yolks

IMG_9623 IMG_9621Using your hands, thoroughly combine the ground meat mixture. Divide the meat into 6 equal portions, about 5-ounces each, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Note:  This 1 hour of refrigeration is not just to allow the flavors to marry. It is easier to form the koobideh on the skewers if the mixture is cold. 

IMG_9627~ Step 3.  Line a large baking pan with parchment, and arrange the skewers across the top of the pan so they cannot touch the bottom. There's more.  When the kabobs are placed on the grill, it helps if they do not touch the hot grill grates directly.  My skewers came with two metal plates that keep the kabobs elevated just above the heat.  Bricks are a fine substitution.

IMG_9628~ Step 4.  Place a skewer through the center of each ball and squeeze the meat along the length of the skewer until there is a 1/4" thick layer of meat about 8" long on each one. Important:  refrigerate the entire pan of kabob koobideh for about 30 minutes prior to grilling.

Tip from Mel:  I remove the balls of meat one-at-a-time from the refrigerator, which keeps them cold.

Grill on slightly-elevated rack 3 minutes per side, turning once:

IMG_9641Serve w/steamed turmeric-laced & sumac-sprinkled basmati rice accompanied by a grilled tomato & grilled flatbread:

IMG_9655Up close & personal w/decidedly, "the mother of all kabobs":

IMG_9674The Persian-Style Ground Beef or Lamb Kababba:  Recipe yields 3-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; paper towels; plastic wrap; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment; 6, 18" long, 1" wide metal skewers; heat-resistant grilling or welders gloves

IMG_8324Cook's Note:  For an All-American regional "kabob of sorts" that uses ground pork but looks like chicken and has a unique name and an equally-unique story, check out my recipe for ~ City Chicken:  Literally "The Other "White Meat" ~ in Categories 1, 2, 3, 10, 17 or 26.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/28/2016

~Grilled Chicken Wings w/Peachy Keen BBQ Sauce~

IMG_9500Purists will tell you there is no substitution for deep-fried chicken wings.  I used to think that too, and, if you want to stay wed to that train of thought, for the time being, it's still a free country. While wings that are oven-fried or grilled can't technically be referred to as Buffalo wings (no self-respecting Buffalo-wing-maker cooks them in the oven or on the grill), wings that are oven-fried or grilled really can be as good as deep-fried wings.  I make wings all three ways, I know.

Whenever I have a lot of wings to make for a indoor party or outdoor tailgate, during the Winter months, I turn on my oven, and, during the Summer months, I fire up my grill.  Why?  Deep-fried wings, while marvelous, are time consuming to prepare.  Deep-frying in batches of 6-8 at a time for 12-13 minutes a batch -- it's not hard to do, but it is definitely hands-on.  Oven-frying and grilling gets them all done at the same time and the process is almost entirely hands-free.

IMG_7834Chicken wings have enough of internal and external fat that pretty much all they need to cook to a crispy state of affairs (besides having the skin as dry as possible) is to be placed on a wire rack inserted into a large baking pan in a very hot oven.   To find out how I do it, just click on the Related Article link below, ~ Seriously E-Z Crispy Oven-Fried Chicken Wings ~.

Oven-fried wings = hot oven.  Grilled wings = indirect heat.

The only thing one can do wrong when grilling chicken wings  is to place them over seething-hot direct heat.  Chicken wings have so much internal and external fat, that, if you do that, they will go up in flames before you can count to three.  They will be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.  Even if you manage not to burn them, you will dry them out.  To grill wings perfectly, think low-and-slow over indirect heat for about 40-45 minutes.  If you can adopt that mindset, the fat will render, the skin will get golden brown and crispy, and, the wings will be plump and juicy too.

Imagine wings that are golden & crispy on the outside w/a classic grilled, slightly-smoky taste combined w/a favorite sauce.

IMG_9410To prepare wings for grill:

6a0120a8551282970b013486a5739d970c-320wiUsing a pair of poultry shears, cut:

5  pounds chicken wings

at their two joints, into 3 sections: the drumette, the flat wing, and the "skinny" wing tip.  Using paper towels, pat the pieces dry.  Some folks like to fry and eat the wing tips -- I don't.  Without the wing tips, this recipe will yield 36-40 appetizers or 8-12 servings at 3-4 per person.

Note:  The flavorful wing tips can must be frozen and used to make chicken stock at a later date.

Season wings w/freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend:

IMG_9427Indirect heat, grill lid closed, 40-45 minutes, turn occasionally:

IMG_9467Remove from grill & toss w/your favorite wing sauce:

IMG_9492To prepare my Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce:

IMG_94431  13-ounce jar peach preserves, 1/2  cup fine-diced sweet onion, 1/2  cup Dijon mustard, 1/4  cup honey, 1/4  cup packed dark brown sugar, 2  tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 

1/4  teaspoon each, ground:  cayenne pepper, ginger, mace, dry English mustard

1/8  teaspoon each, ground:  allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, sea salt  

IMG_9394IMG_9396IMG_9400IMG_9405~Step 1.  Place  all ingredients, as listed in a 3-quart saucier over low heat.  Using a large spoon, stir constantly, until  ingredients are thoroughly combined and peach preserves and sugars are melted.  Adjust heat to medium-high to simmer vigorously, whisking constantly to avoid scorching, for exactly 3 minutes.  Sauce will be nicely thickened.  Remove from heat, cover and allow to cool for 1 hour prior to serving warm.  For a smooth texture, place in a blender or a food processor.  Refrigerate for several weeks or freeze for several months.

Toss chicken wings in enough sauce to coat & enjoy ASAP!

IMG_9499Grilled Chicken Wings w/Peachy Keen BBQ Sauce:  Recipe yields about 36-40 appetizers and 2 generous cups barbecue sauce.

Special Equipment List:  poultry shears; paper towels; gas grill; long-handled grilling tongs; 3-quart saucier w/lid, or a 2-3-4-quart saucepan w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd254853970bCook's Note:  A lot of people are just plain afraid of deep-frying and I can appreciate that.  That said, thanks to the relatively inexpensive deep-fryers on the market today that make it mess-free, I've become a fearless fryer.  If you would like to learn how to safely and easily deep-fry some real-deal chicken wings, Buffalo-style, just click into Categories 1, 2 or 17 to get my recipe: ~ JoePa's Chicken Wings (Perfectly Deep-Fried Wings) ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 

07/25/2016

~ Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce for Poultry or Pork ~

IMG_9443Peach cobbler, peach pie, peach melba, peach shortcake, peach ice cream --  peachy keen. A perfectly-ripe peach is the apple of everyones eye.  Announce that you're serving a fresh peach dessert for dinner and everyone shows up on time.  When the peaches on our backyard trees ripen, things in my kitchen move fast for a few days.  It's damn-the-torpedos, full-speed-ahead, all-things-peaches.  They trickle in at first, pile up at the end, and, after picking, I only have, at best, 24-48 hours to get 'em in their juicy, ripe prime.  It's a drippy, sticky, tricky situation.

PICT0696While I like fruit desserts as much as the next person, I like savory fruit sauces just as much, and, peaches lend their sweet and tart flavor to barbecue sauce, which complements poultry or pork, amazingly well.  I make peach preserves every year, so I have them on-hand in my freezer all year long  -- it's a delicious way to make use of an overabundance of peaches in a hurry.  Peach preserves, combined with little bits of sweet onion star in my peachy keen barbecue sauce.

IMG_9360Peach preserves:  The star of my Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce!

IMG_93871  13-ounce jar peach preserves, preferably homemade, or the best available

1/2  cup very-finely diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2  cup Dijon mustard

1/4  cup honey

2  tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

1/4  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon ground mace

1/4  teaspoon dry English mustard

1/8  teaspoon ground allspice

1/8  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8  teaspoon fine sea salt

1/8-1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper (Note:  I use a generous 1/4 teaspoon.)

IMG_9381Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a 3-quart saucier.  If you don't have a saucier use a 2-3-4-quart saucepan.  

What is a saucier (sauce-ee-ay)?

Sauces are liquids that usually require a good deal of whisking and IMG_9390often reduction.  Whisking is tough if you are trying to maneuver around the corners of a traditional stockpot or chef's pan w/straight deep sides.

In French cooking, a saucier is the title of a chef who devotes his or her career to making sauces.  

The French also came up with a vessel, of the same name, to make whisking easy.  Saucier:  a shallow, wide-bottomed pot with rounded sides.  Reduction is quicker and easier because of the larger surface area, as:  the larger the surface area, the faster the liquid evaporates.  The high-quality saucier I am using is stainless steel with a cooper core and is made by Anolon.  

IMG_9394 IMG_9396 IMG_9400 IMG_9405~Step 2.  Place  saucier over low heat.  Using a large spoon, stir constantly, until  ingredients are thoroughly combined and peach preserves and sugars are melted.  Adjust heat to medium-high to simmer vigorously, whisking constantly to avoid scorching, for exactly 3 minutes.  Sauce will be nicely thickened.  Remove from heat, cover and allow to cool for 1 hour prior to serving warm.

Note:  For a smooth texture, place in a blender or a food processor and blend or process.

IMG_9406~ Step 3.  Transfer cooled sauce to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate indefinitely. Reheat prior to serving by placing the container in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, stopping to stir about every 30 seconds.  This sauce freezes well too, so: feel free to make a double batch and portion it into small containers to have on hand all the time.  Brush sauce onto grilled poultry, pork or vegetables just before removing food from the grill. Serve additional sauce at tableside for dipping or drizzling.

Peachy keen with just enough sweet 'n savory heat:

IMG_9450Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce for Poultry or Pork:  Recipe yields 2 generous cups.

Special Equipment List:  3-quart saucier w/lid, or a 2-3-4-quart saucepan w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon

IMG_9365Cook's Note:  My recipe for ~ Perfect Peach Preserves from the Bread Machine ~ can be found in Categories 8, 9, 20 or 22.  The bread machine does all the work, which leaves my hands free to prep subsequent batches.  They can be refrigerated for several weeks and frozen for several months too.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/23/2016

~ Perfect Peach Preserves from the Bread Machine ~

IMG_9365'Tis the season for fresh berries and fruit, and I especially love the fresh fruit and berries Joe grows right here in our backyard.  That said, besides apples, fruit and berries don't have a particularly long shelf life. During the first three weeks of July, I've frozen our sour pie cherries and blueberries in 2-pound bags -- enough to make 20 cherry pies and 10 blueberry pies during the upcoming year.  These two fruits are easy to freeze, and, they freeze really, really well.

Peach freezing is not for me.  The end doesn't justify the means.

PICT0696Peaches can be frozen, but they are quite a bit trickier and messier than cherries and blueberries.  They must be peeled, pitted, halved and/or sliced.  To keep them from discoloring, they need to be packed in a sugar-based syrup or fruit juice.  I did this a few years ago and not only did I not enjoy the lengthy process, I wasn't particularly wowed by the defrosted end result -- not disappointed, just not wowed.  They were fine for spooning on ice cream, stirring into yogurt or processing into a smoothie, but they surely did not produce a superb pie or a galette.  

If this gal going to take the time to peel, pit and slice 2 bushels of peaches, this gal had better end up with a peachy-keen product at the end.

PICT1243Peach preserves proved to be the way for me to go.  I experimented with a few different recipes until I hit on a flavor combination that had my family asking for preserves every morning. I didn't end up with big final batch of them that first year (because of my experiments), but what I did end up with, I put in containers and froze.

PICT1252Freezing peach preserves worked great and it's oh-so-much-easier than canning -- another foodie sport I am not fond of.

I also discovered another time-saving "good thing":   My bread machine has a jam cycle on it. Once the fruit mixture is in the bread pan and placed in the bread machine, all I have to do is turn it on and in about an hour the preserves emerge perfectly cooked.  The bread machine controls the temperature and does all of the stirring for me, which frees up my hands to prep another batch.  

The bread machine method is particularly convenient for fruit, like peaches, that don't ripen at the same rate of speed, meaning:  you can do small batches over a period of a few days.  This is also perfect for those of you who only want to make a few cups of preserves. 

PICT1306 That said, if you are a purist and make a lot of jellies, jams, preserves, marmalades or chutney and conserve, you might want to consider a maslin pot.  This 10 1/2-quart pot is ideal for long, slow methods of food preparation.  It has a heavy bottom and wide, sloping sides which reduce the possibility of scorching and promotes evaporation.  Its heavy loop handle and helper handle make transporting and transferring a large quantity of hot food easy and safe. This pot is fantastic for jams, soups, stews, chili, etc. (about $190.00).

PICT11984-5  cups peeled, pitted and diced peaches

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  tablespoons peach brandy

1  teaspoon almond extract

PICT1223 ~ Step 1. Prep the peaches as directed and place them in a large mixing bowl.  The size you dice your peaches should be determined by how chunky you like your preserves.  I dice my peaches into 1/2" pieces.

PICT1232~ Step 2.  Add the sugar, peach brandy and almond extract to the peaches.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is soupy.

PICT1235 Transfer the mixture to the bread pan of bread machine into which the kneading paddle has first been attached.

PICT1239~ Step 3.  Insert the pan into the bread machine and close the lid. Plug the bread machine in and press the menu button to select the jam cycle.  Press the start button.  

When the cycle is complete, open the lid and carefully remove the pan from the machine, making sure you are using a pot holder or wearing an oven mitt as this is very hot!

PICT1248~ Step 4.  Using a large slotted ladle or spoon, transfer preserves to 2, 2-cup containers, allowing most of the excess juices to drizzle back into the pan. If you are freezing the preserves, leave 1/2" of headspace in each container, for preserves to expand as they freeze.

~ Step 5.  Now that all of the precious fruit has been placed in the two containers, ladle or slowly pour the excess juices into the two containers, again to fill each container to within 1/2"  of the top of each container.  You will most likely have some excess juice leftover, and, how much is 100% determined by how ripe and how juicy, meaning:  how firm or how soft the peaches were. Partially cover the containers with their lids and set aside to cool completely, about 2-3 hours. Cover and refrigerate until preserves are well-chilled before freezing -- overnight is best.

Preserves can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

IMG_9360Preserves can be frozen for several months. 

IMG_9374Perfect Peach Preserves from the Bread Machine:  Recipe yields 3 1/2 cups of preserves.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; bread machine; large slotted ladle or spoon; 2, 2-cup size freezer-safe containers w/tight fitting lids

PICT1212 Cook's Note:  What is the difference between jelly, jam, preserves and marmalade?  It boils down to the end product.  Jelly is made from fruit juice and is gelatinous.  Jam is made from pulp, pureed or mashed fruit and is more spreadable than jelly.  Preserves are made from diced, chunked or whole fruit and is looser than jam, spoonable rather than spreadable.  Marmalade is usually made from citrus fruit, sometimes contains chards of rind and has a consistency somewhere between jelly and jam!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/20/2016

~ Plantation Cake: A Very Southern Vintage Cake ~

IMG_9315I first came across this recipe in a stack of recipe cards held together with a rubber band.  They were in a plastic bag full of newspaper- and magazine-clipped recipes that my late grandmother collected.  I don't recall her making the cake, but, at some point in her life she must have, as she took the time to write it down in her own hand.  It's an unpretentious, yellow cake made of butter or margarine, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla, home-canned peaches or pears, pecans or walnuts and buttermilk or sour cream.  It sure sounded good to me, and, its name was intriguing enough for me to give it a try.  It worked great and it was easy to make -- I couldn't have been happier.

I alway say, "every recipe has a story or a history", and in the case of this one, it has what I believe to be both.   It's living proof that, if you love to cook, and, even if you don't, if you find or are given a plastic bag full of old, out-dated looking recipes, that someone in your family or someone elses took the time to collect, read each one or pass them along to someone who will.

All recipes matter!

IMG_9323I assumed my grandmother's sister-in-law Yula, who spoke slowly, in a deep voice with a heavy Southern drawl, and hailed from somewhere in North Carolina, gave her the recipe back in the 1940's or 50's, as, Yula died when I was five or six, which was in 1960-1961.  In my mind, Aunt Yula's Southern heritage + peaches, pecans and buttermilk = a Southern recipe -- and that's what I told everyone.  This cake is perfect to take to picnics, potlucks, tailgates, and, funerals too.

It's so easy you don't even need an electric mixer to make it!

IMG_9334This makes perfect sense considering that the family bakers that came just two generations before me, especially in the rural and farm communities prior to World War II, had no electricity, and, they baked in wood- or coal-fired ovens under spartan conditions.  I'd be willing to venture an educated guess that this recipe was originally baked in and served out of a cast iron skillet.

IMG_9244Fast forward to 1999.  I was 44 and came across a recipe for Plantation Cake a second time.  This one was in print on page 54 of James McNair's Cakes cookbook.  This well-known Southern-heritaged cookbook author writes that a friend from New Orleans gave this "venerable favorite" recipe to him.  His friend's version called for adding a can of fruit cocktail (which was popular with the World War II era generation) to the butter-cake batter, and topping the cake with a sweetened condensed milk frosting while the cake is hot.  OMG!  

In true James McNair-style (I have all of his books), he gave the cake "a tropical treatment by combining the best of plantation crops: pineapple, macadamia nuts, vanilla, sugar and coconut."

IMG_9248For the topping:

1  6 1/2-ounce container macadamia nuts, very coarsely chopped

1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons firmly-packed light-brown sugar

1/4  cup salted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature (1/2 stick)

For the cake batter:

1  20-ounce can pineapple chunks packed in juice, chunks diced & juice reserved, 2 cups diced fruit & 1 cup fruit juice

3  cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 1/2  cups granulated sugar

1  tablespoon baking powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

3  large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

2  teaspoons butter-rum extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the icing:

1  14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, not evaporated milk

1  generous cup sweetened, flaked coconut

IMG_9255 IMG_9258~ Step 1.  To prepare the topping, in a small bowl, using your fingertips, combine the brown sugar, chopped macadamias and softened butter pieces.  A sticky but grainy and chunky mixture will have formed.  Set aside.

IMG_9250 IMG_9259~ Step 2.  Drain  the pineapple chunks through a mesh strainer that has been placed over a small bowl to reserve the juice.  Cut each chunk of pineapple into 3-4 smaller pieces, adding them to the juice as you work.

IMG_9264 IMG_9268 IMG_9269 IMG_9272~Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, lightly beat the eggs.  In a large bowl, stir together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt.  Add the pineapple and juice, beaten eggs and extracts.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until a thick cake batter forms.

IMG_9275 IMG_9276~ Step 4.  Transfer batter to a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray and give the dish a few back-and-forth shakes across the countertop to smooth the batter out.  Sprinkle the nut topping evenly over the top.

IMG_9286 IMG_9289 IMG_9290~Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center.  While cake is baking, place the condensed milk in a 2-cup measuring container and set aside.  Place the coconut in a 10" nonstick skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring the coconut constantly, until lightly-browned, about 3-4 minutes -- watch carefully as this can and will burn quickly.  Remove from heat and transfer to a plate to cool.

IMG_9294 IMG_9297 IMG_9302~ Step 6.  Remove cake from oven and place on a wire rack to begin cooling. Place the condensed milk in a 2-cup measuring container and heat in the microwave until hot and bubbly. Drizzle the hot condensed milk over the hot cake and top with the toasted coconut.  Allow cake to cool completely prior to slicing.

Plantation cake going into oven to bake 35-40 minutes:

IMG_9285Three hours later  -- baked, topped, cooled & ready to slice:

IMG_9306Plantation Cake:  A Very Southern Vintage Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; mesh strainer; 1-cup measuring container; fork; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; 10" nonstick skillet; wire cooling rack; 2-cup measuring container 

IMG_8661Cook's Note: For another great  All-American retro canned-pineapple cake from the World War II generation, try my tropical-twisted recipe for ~ Pineapple Coconut and Rum Upside Down Cake ~.  It too is perfect for all sorts of occasions and you can find it by clicking into Categores 6, 9, 10, 19 or 20.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/17/2016

~ Lobster Rolls: The Official Summertime Sandwich ~

IMG_9234For a bib-wearing lobster-lover like me, past steaming-hot with drawn butter and lemon, when I am looking to quell a craving for my favorite crustacean, I indulge in a lobster roll -- a sandwich with big chunks of tender, sweet-white-meat and tiny bits of celery or scallions, lightly-coated with creamy mayonnaise and piled into a buttery, toasted 'hot dog' roll.  It's heaven.  On bread.

Cold-water-lobster-300x172Yes, from bisque to thermidore, you will find a lengthy list of recipes paying homage to the preparation of this beloved cold-water creature, but, none result in the comfort and complete satisfaction that comes over me while eating a humble lobster roll on a Summer day with an ice cold beer at hand, at a lobster shack on the New England coast or on my back porch.

There's no absolute right way to make a lobster roll...

IMG_9240... but, if it's overcomplicated or gourmet, it's all wrong. 

Lobstershack-2The Maine ingredient is cold-water lobster meat, the best you can get your hands on -- for full effect, that means cooking a whole live lobster. That said, high-quality flash-frozen tails make life simpler and more user-friendly for many a home cook. At coastal, roadside New England "lobster shacks", also called "lobster pounds" (indoor and outdoor eateries where significant amounts of live lobsters are housed, cooked on-site and sold for consumption), live lobsters are usually boiled in seasoned water, hand-picked to harvest the meat, and, each sandwich contains a generous quarter-pound of chunked sweet claw, tender knuckle and tasty tail.  In New England, they serve the sandwich two ways:  warm lobster meat tossed judiciously with melted butter, or, cold lobster meat tossed in some mayonnaise -- just enough to coat and never enough to drench.

IMG_9154Whether you opt for the butter or the mayonnaise version, in New England, your lobster roll is going to be served on a frankfurter-esque roll that has been baked differently from the standard hot dog roll.  Its crustless, flat sides allow it to be buttered and lightly-toasted on a flattop grill.  Its flat bottom keeps it from tipping over on the plate, and, because it is top loading, all of the filling stays squarely in place.  That said, outside of New England, these rolls can be difficult to locate, but, they're not difficult to make.  

My recipe for ~ New England Top-Split Brioche Hot Dog Rolls ~ can be found in Category 5.

IMG_9166It's all about the lobster, and, when it comes to making lobster roll sandwiches, here in landlocked Central Pennsylvania (not exactly known as "the land of lobster tanks"), I find it easiest to use:

2,  12-ounce, flash-frozen tails, fully-thawed & at room temp

IMG_91681-quart cold water

2  cups white wine

1 lemon & 2 bay leaves

~ Step 1.  Place water and wine in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides.  Cut a lemon in half, squeeze as much juice from it as you can into the water mixture, then add the lemon rinds too.  Add bay leaves.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add tails. When water returns to slow boil, reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover the pan, and, cook for exactly 10 minutes.

IMG_9175Tip from Mel:  I like to place one 6" wooden skewer through the length of the meat in each Lobster tail. You do not have to do this, but, it keeps the tails from curling up a lot while cooking.  This definitely makes them easier to cut in the end, and, even though I have no scientific evidence to back this up, I have completely convinced myself that they cook more evenly too.

IMG_9179 IMG_9184 IMG_9187 IMG_9191~Step 2.  Using a pair of tongs, remove the lobster tails from the simmering liquid and place them in a colander.  Using a sharp paring knife, cut into the soft underside and check to be sure they are cooked-through to the center, meaning:  the center should be as opaque as the outside. If they are, rinse them under cold running water to halt the cooking process.  In the strange event they're not, return them to the pan of simmering liquid and cook for another 45-60 seconds.

IMG_9194 IMG_9195 IMG_9198 IMG_9200 IMG_9205~Step 3.  To remove meat from tails, using a pair of kitchen shears, cut through the soft undersides of the tails, along both sides of the tail, then, using your fingertips, remove the soft underside.  Next, place your thumb under the shell and between the meat on the thickest side and lift the shell off.  Lastly, remove the wooden skewer.  Slice the tail meat into 1/2"-thick medallions and slice each medallion into 3-4 chunks. You will have 1-pound of chunked, sweet, white and perfectly-cooked room-temperature lobster meat.

IMG_9209 IMG_9211 IMG_9214 IMG_9216~Step 4.  In a medium bowl, stir together:  10  tablespoons mayonnaise, 1  teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1  teaspoon lemon juice, 4  tablespoons minced celery, 4  tablespoons minced green onion, 1/8  teaspoon sea salt and 1/8 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper.  Fold in: 1 pound lobster meat, cooked as directed above.  Serve immediately on toasted top-split rolls.  

Note:  It can be refrigerated, but, I adore it served at room temperature immediately after mixing.

IMG_9226 IMG_9221~ Step 5.  To toast rolls, melt 1 1/2 teaspoons salted IMG_9223butter in an 8" nonstick skillet over low heat. Increase heat to medium and toast until golden brown on the two flat crustless sides only, turning only once, about 1 minute per side.  Serve ASAP.

Remove toasted roll from skillet, wipe skillet clean and repeat with three more rolls.  Note:  Yes, you can toast more than one roll in a larger skillet using more butter accordingly -- it works great when serving 4 people at once.  For Joe and I, I toast each roll as we eat the sandwiches.

Serve w/pickles & potato chips & pick it up & enjoy ASAP!

IMG_9236Lobster Rolls:  The Official Summertime Sandwich:  Recipe yields 4 lobster roll sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  2, 6" wooden skewers; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid; tongs; colander; kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_8848Cook's Note:  "Hold the mayo." When I'm in the mood for a warm lobster roll with the meat tossed in butter, I cook the tails differently. Click into Category 21 to get my recipe for ~ Elegant & Exquisite Butter-Poached Lobster Tails ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/15/2016

~ My New England Top-Split Brioche Hot Dog Rolls ~

IMG_9156The first time I encountered a top-split hot dog roll I was standing on the hot asphalt on the grounds of the New York World's Fair at Flushing Meadows Park in 1964.  As a 9-year-old, I gave great consideration to NOT eating my hot dog that day because I didn't trust the shape of the roll.  I was a very cautious child foodie.  After a healthy dose of discipline from my mother, I ate my hot dog (mostly because I wanted that Belgian waffle I was promised), and, by my fourth and last visit to "The Fair" in 1965, I was an aficionado of the top-split hot dog roll.  That said, it would be years before I learned it to be a New England-style roll and not a New York-style roll.

IMG_9159"Peace Through Understanding"  was the fair's theme.

New_York_Worlds_Fair_August_1964-1024x667A bit about the classic New England top-split hot dog roll:  Wherever one lives, most folks don't make any type of hot dog rolls at home -- we buy them.  That said, these unique flat-bottomed top-loading SpongeBob-SquarePants rolls, are difficult to find outside of the New England, New York area, and, it's only in my recent Happy Valley past that I occasionally come across them here in Central Pennsylvania.  Their crustless sides, when toasted on a flat-top grill in some butter, get a crispy, buttery outside -- the ideal vessel for all sorts of sandwich creations.

East4The top-split hot dog roll was the precursor to the all-familiar ballpark, hinge-type bun that most of us Americans put on our tables today (and that one didn't come along until the 1950's). Interestingly, hot dogs had absolutely nothing to do with the invention of the top-sliced roll either. Back in the 1940's, a Maine-based bakery, J.J. Nissen, came up with the idea at the request of Howard Johnson's.  

This very-popular family-friendly Massachusetts-based motel-restaurant chain (that dotted our American landscape during the 1960's, '70's and into the '80's) wanted a stable roll --  one that would not 'roll over' on the plate.  They wanted it specifically to hold their signature fried clam strips.  HoJo's loved it and introduced their new bun to the USA, where it remains a novelty, except in New England where it's the #1 choice for lobster rolls, clam rolls and frankfurters.

The best invention since sliced white bread & made in the USA:

IMG_9044For those inclined to bake their own top-split hot dog rolls!

IMG_9051Let me start by saying "thank-you" to the folks who sell these very specialized, commercial-grade, baking pans to us home bakers.  

Each sturdy nonstick steel pan forms 10 rolls into U-shaped indentations that run across its rectangular bottom.  Use the recipe that comes with the pan (printed on the back of the label) or use your favorite soft white bread-type recipe and shape the dough according to the instructions, which calls for covering the pan with a weighty or weighted buttered baking sheet. As the rolls bake, the dough expands against the baking sheet, and after baking, releases 10 evenly browned, flat-bottomed rolls ready for cooling and slicing.

In my opinion, the perfect bread for any type of soft sandwich roll is brioche -- an enriched dough made from butter, eggs, milk, salt, sugar and flour.  I make and rise my own recipe for brioche dough in the bread machine, which turns making top-split rolls (or any rolls) from a chore to a breeze -- pat the proofed dough into the pans and bake.  It doesn't get any easier than this!

IMG_90523/4  cup whole milk

4  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes, preferably at room temperature (1/2 stick)

3  tablespoons sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  large egg, preferably at room temperature, lightly beaten

3  cups + 3  tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise (1 packet)

IMG_9056~ Step 1.  Always follow the instructions that came with your bread machine -- they all vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.  This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine.  The paddle (which will do the kneading), has been inserted.  The instruction manual states to always insert the paddle this this position before adding any ingredients, so I do.

IMG_9059 IMG_9062 IMG_9064 IMG_9065 IMG_9068 IMG_9073~Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, heat the milk until steaming.  This is quickly and easily done in the microwave.  Add the sugar, salt and butter to the hot milk.  Using a fork, stir until butter has melted.  Pour  this mixture into the bread pan.

IMG_9076 IMG_9083~ Step 3.  In the same 1-cup measure and using the same fork, whisk the egg to lightly beat it.  Add the beaten egg to the milk mixture in bread pan. Note:   "Wet ingredients first/dry ingredients second" is a rule in bread machine baking.

IMG_9085 IMG_9087 IMG_9099Step 4.  Add the flour to bread pan.  Do not mix or stir.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation in the top of the flour, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Add/pour the yeast into the indentation.

IMG_9102 IMG_9104 IMG_9105~ Step 5.  Insert bread pan into bread machine and press down until it is "clicked" securely in place. Close the lid and plug the machine in.  Press "select".  Next, select the "loaf size" and choose the 1 1/2 pound option. Lastly, choose the "dough" cycle.  Press "start".  In my machine, my dough will have been kneaded, proofed, and, have gone through a first rise in 1 1/2 hours -- it's now ready to go.

IMG_9110 IMG_9114 IMG_9117 IMG_9119~Step 6.  Spray the inside of the top-split hot dog roll pan with a light coating of no-stick cooking spray.  When the dough cycle is done, lightly oil your fingertips with some spray too, take dough out of the bread machine's bread pan (which will not be hot), briefly knead the dough in your oiled fingertips to form it into a smooth ball, then, place it on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that also has been lightly-sprayed with no-stick and form the dough into a log-esque shape.  Using your fingertips, pat and press it into a rectangular shape, roughly the same size as the the top-split hot dog roll pan.  Note:  I find it easier to do this initial patting and pressing on a flat surface.

IMG_9120 IMG_9122 IMG_9125 IMG_9128~Step 7.  Lift, invert and place the dough, top-side-down (this is the pretty side and after baking and inverting the rolls out of the pan, you want the pretty-side top-side), in the top-split hot dog roll pan and do a bit more patting and pressing, to get it into the sides and corners.  The pan will be about 1/2 full.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise about 45 minutes.  The dough will have risen and the pan will be about 3/4 full.  Remove and discard the plastic wrap.  

IMG_9132~ Step 8.  Invert and place the already no-stick sprayed baking pan over the top of the top-split hot dog roll pan and place it on the center rack of a preheated 360-365 degree oven.  Place a cast-iron skillet (or something oven safe and heavy) on top of the baking pan to weight it down on top of the roll pan.

IMG_9134~ Step 9.  Bake for 18 minutes.

Remove the cast-iron skillet and the baking pan and continue to bake another 2-3 minutes until nicely golden.  These baked 2 additional minutes today, for a total IMG_9137of 20 minutes in the oven.  When tapped on the top with your knuckle, the "loaf of rolls" will sound hollow.  

Remove the pan from the oven, place it on a wire rack and cool rolls, in pan, another 2-3 minutes.  

Invert onto wire rack & cool completely prior to slicing. 

IMG_9146My top-split hot dog roll post today, my lobster roll post next!

IMG_9154My New England Top-Split Brioche Hot Dog Rolls:  Recipe yields 10 top-split hot dog rolls.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; bread machine; New England-style top-split hot dog roll pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; plastic wrap; cast-iron skillet; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b016767f23475970bCook's Note:  Developing my own recipes for my bread machine was one of the smartest things I ever did -- if you've ever tried the recipes that come with the machine, you know they are not what they are cracked up to be.  You can find my recipe for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~, in Categories 2, 5, 9, 15, 18 or 20.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/12/2016

~ Skillet-Roasted Baby Carrots & Potato Medallions ~

IMG_9031Twelve minutes.  Yes, in a skillet, in twelve short minutes, you can roast elegant-looking sweet-tasting fork-tender baby carrots and potato medallions.  I roast all sorts of vegetables in the oven when I'm cooking for a crowd (if one is serving roasted meat, poultry and gravy, one can never roast too many vegetables), but, when I'm only cooking for Joe and myself, I turn to my skillet on my stovetop instead of my oven.  It's a super-speedy method with a super-delicious outcome.

While you can successfully roast all sorts of vegetables in a skillet on the stovetop, you can only combine them if their textures and water content are similar.  Even size helps, but, there is no way to skillet-roast delicate asparagus with any type of potato; a sweet potato takes longer to roast in a skillet than a red, gold or Russet potato does; all squash is not created equal; and, while adding celery, onion or garlic adds flavor, they also exude a lot of water when they cook, which slows down the process and affects the end result.  The list goes on and it's very long.

The long, thin baby carrot & the Russet potato. 

IMG_8999The long, thin baby carrot and the Russet potato.  This is my favorite combination because the carrots and the potatoes, both root vegetables of similar texture, when sized and sliced properly, cook perfectly, in one skillet, in exactly the same amount of time every time.  Twelve minutes.

Trim, rinse but don't peel, &, pat dry 8 carrots.  Rinse, don't peel, &, pat dry 2 potatoes.  Slice each potato into 6, 1/2"-thick medallions:

IMG_9008Place about 1/8" oil (peanut or vegetable) in a 12" skillet.  Season oil w/sea salt & peppercorn blend.  Heat oil over medium-high:

IMG_9001Add carrots & potato medallions to hot oil in skillet.  Lightly season tops of all w/sea salt & peppercorn blend:  

IMG_9017Sauté until vegetables are golden on both sides, turning only once, about 6 minutes per side -- heat varies from stove to stove:  

IMG_9022Remove from heat, transfer to a platter or portion onto plates & serve immediately w/your favorite meat or poultry:

IMG_9024Skillet-Roasted Baby Carrots & Potato Medallions:  Recipe yields 4 servings of 2 carrots and 3 potato medallions per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" non-stick skillet; nonstick spatula

IMG_8984Cook's Note:  One of my favorite dinners to serve my skillet-roasted baby carrots and potato medallions with is: ~ Oh My Goddess of the Hunt:  Divine Steak Diane ~.  You can find my version of this decadent retro recipe by clicking into Categories 3, 21 or 26.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/10/2016

~ Oh My Goddess of the Hunt: Divine Steak Diane ~

IMG_8984One upon a time, Joe and I used to go up to the top of Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh (the point overlooking the city and the location where the three rivers meet (the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio), to eat in an upscale French restaurant named Christopher's (currently The Monterey Bay Fish Grotto).  During that period of time, Joe did enough of business in Pittsburgh that we got to eat there a few times a year.  He in a suit and tie, I in a dress and heels, through the doors we walked.   Their food was divine, the view was breathtaking, and, when I didn't order steak au poivre, I ordered steak Diane and a nice merlot.

1027px-Pittsburgh_skyline_panorama_daytimeThe only thing I love more than eating a perfectly-cooked filet mignon in an elegant restaurant with a fantastic view day or night, with a handsome guy sitting across the table from me, is: a filet prepared for me, complete with the flambéed fanfare, at my table.

1012px-Pittsburgh_skyline_panorama_at_night

What's the difference between Steak Diane and Steak au Poivre?

Steak Diane and steak au poivre are similar in that filet mignon is used in the preparation of both.  In both cases, the same skillet used to prepare the meat is used to prepare a sauce made from the "fond" (the "drippings") left in the pan.  Here are the notable differences:

IMG_9840< Steak au poivre (pictured here) is a French creation which historians date back to the 19th century.  The most important thing to remember about steak au poivre is: "au poivre" is French for "with pepper", and, for this dish, the steak must be crusted in a copious amount of cracked or coarsely-ground peppercorns prior to being pan-seared on the stovetop (and sometimes finished off in the oven).  To get my recipe:  

Click on the Related Article below, ~ Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn Crusted Filet Mignon) ~.  

IMG_8976< Steak Diane (pictured here) is a mid-20th century American creation invented and popularized in one of NYC's posh, Francophile restaurants -- back in the latter 1940's, '50's and '60's, preparing all sorts of flambéed dishes (like penne with vodka sauce and bananas foster) tableside was very trendy.  Steak Diane epitomized black-tie-luxury for post WWII diners who had experienced first-hand America's wartime rationing of dairy products and meat.  Meat and butter was on everyone's mind during this time.  By the 1970's and early '80's, everyone who ate in a posh French restaurant anywhere in the USA had eaten either steak Diane or steak au poivre.  

The dish itself:  The filet for steak Diane, while seasoned in some manner, is not crusted in peppercorns. The most important thing to remember about steak Diane is: the meat, usually a 1"-1 1/2" thick filet, is sliced in half lengthwise, to a thickness of 1/2"-3/4", then lightly-pounded prior to quickly sautéing it in butter, at tableside.  Once the cooked steak is removed from the pan, a quick sauce containing minced shallot or onion, sometimes a few mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, demi-glace or beef stock, cognac and black pepper is prepared in the "fond" ("the drippings").  Top with a few minced chives or parsley (for some much needed color), serve with a well-presented potato and/or carrot, and, voila:  dinner is served.

Versailles-artemis-diana-goddess-of-the-hunt-forests-and-hills-the-moonA bit about Diane, a la Diane, and, sauce Diane:  In French, "a la" means "in the style of", and in Roman mythology Diane was the Roman goddess of the hunt, the moon, and nature, and she had the ability to talk to and control animals. Her name is attached to game dishes, most noteably:  venison.  It's not much of a leap to see how it came to include beef, hence the words "a la Diane" or: steak in the style of Diane, or, steak prepared in the style of venison.  As for sauce Diane, its earliest mention comes in 1907 from Escoffier, and, it implies that truffles are added to the sauce, which, makes perfect sense as their earthy, musky flavor is a fine compliment to the bold taste of venison or beef.  So, if you see Steak Diane w/Sauce Diane on the menu, expect truffles in the sauce.

Filet for steak Diane = 1/2"-thick & lightly-pounded

IMG_8910For the filets:

2  1"-thick, 8-ounce beef tenderloin steaks (filet mignon)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

~ Step 1.   Place both steaks on a small plate in the freezer for about 45-60 minutes.  Freezing them just long enough to firm them up will make them easy to slice evenly.  

IMG_8916 IMG_8920~ Step 2.  Remove the steaks from the freezer and using a large chef's knife, slice them in half lengthwise to form 4, 4-ounce, 1/2"-thick steaks.

IMG_8923~ Step 3. Place the four still semi-frozen steaks between two pieces of plastic wrap.

IMG_8929~ Step 4.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, lightly pound them, just enough to increase their surface area by about a third, or, to a thickness of slightly more than 1/4". Do not smash them to smithereens

~ Step 5.  Lightly season the tops of the four pounded filets with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Proceed with recipe.

Sauce for steak Diane =  bold, beefy & earthy

IMG_8932For the steak Diane: 

4  4-ounce lightly-pounded filet mignon, lightly-seasoned with sea salt and peppercorn blend as directed above

2  cloves garlic, run through a press

2-4  ounces minced shallot or sweet onion (1/2-1 cup)

2-4  ounces baby bella mushroom caps, small diced (1-2 cups)

1/2  cup minced, fresh parsley 

4  ounces demi-glace (1/2 cup), a rich, brown, strongly-flavored combination of duck and veal stock prepared with roasted bones, homemade or store-bought (beef stock may be substituted but demi-glace is much better)

1/4  cup heavy or whipping cream 

2 tablespoons of your favorite slightly-thick, "A-1"-type steak sauce (Worcestershire sauce may be substituted but thicker-type steak sauce is much better)  

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

3 tablespoons good-quality Cognac (1 1/2 ounces)

2 additional tablespoons minced, fresh parsley, for garnish 

IMG_8934 IMG_8939~ Step 1.  Prep garlic, shallot, mushrooms and parsley as directed. Set aside.  In a 2-cup measuring container, stir together demi-glace, cream, steak sauce, Dijon mustard and set aside.

IMG_8946 IMG_8947~ Step 2.  In a 12" skillet, melt butter over low heat. Increase the heat to medium-high.  Place seasoned filets in  skillet, seasoned tops down. Season second sides lightly with sea salt and peppercorn blend and sauté 2 1/2-3 minutes per side, turning only once. Filets will be golden around the edges.  At 2 1/2 minutes per side, the filets will be rare, at 3 minutes per side they will be medium-rare, and, past that, overcooked.

IMG_8952 IMG_8957Step 3.  Turn the heat off. Transfer the filets to a warm serving platter, leaving all of the juices in the pan. Cover the filets with aluminum foil and allow to rest while preparing the sauce. Do not cut into your steaks to test for doneness because I can tell you they are going to look underdone.  Just remember:  carry over heat during the rest period is going to continue to cook them a bit more, so just trust me and be patient.

IMG_8960 IMG_8962 IMG_8965 IMG_8967~Step 4.  Add the pressed garlic, diced shallots or onions and mushrooms to the "fond" (the "pan drippings").  Lightly season with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, adjust heat to saute, stirring almost constantly until onions are translucent and mushrooms have lost most of their moisture, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the cognac to the skillet, and, using a spatula, deglaze by gently loosening all of the flavorful browned bits from the bottom of pan, about 30 seconds.  

Note:  As much fun as it is to watch chefs "flambe" things ("ignite" things) in restaurants and on TV, it is almost always unnecessary, especially in the home kitchen and  I try to avoid it.

IMG_8970 IMG_8972~ Step 5.  Add the demi-glace mixture and stir in 1/2 cup of the minced, fresh parsley.   Bring to a boil, adjust heat to a rapid simmer and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced a bit and slightly-thickened, about 5-6 minutes.

Oh My Goddess of the Hunt...

IMG_8976... meet Mel's absolutely awesome Divine Steak Diane:

IMG_8987Oh My Goddess of the Hunt:  Divine Steak Diane:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 2-cup measuring container; 10"-12" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; aluminum foil 

IMG_2070 IMG_2081Cook's Note: From hamburger to skirt steak, I adore every cut of beef prepared in almost any way imaginable.  That said, my ultimate favorite is ~ My Love Affair with:  Individual Beef Wellingtons ~.  You can find my recipe for this very special indulgence in Categories 3, 11, 21 or 26.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/07/2016

~ Shrimp Creole: The King of Creole Shrimp Dishes ~

IMG_8895Shrimp a la Creole or Creole-style shrimp is the first Creole recipe I ever cooked, and, I made it because I wanted to try my 19-year-old hand at making something "new to me".  I was a new bride and the recipe was on page 311 of the 1974 Edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook.  While their recipe was "quick and easy", it was fundamentally sound and it tasted pretty good too.  It served its purpose well, in that, its success prompted me to try more sophisticated versions, the best one being made with fresh Gulf shrimp in the New Orleans French Quarter in the 1980's.

IMG_8838< Betty Crocker's recipe (pictured here), while good, is not "the best", nor is it the the recipe I am making and sharing today, but, in reality, shrimp Creole really is a relatively easy dish to prepare and we all gotta start somewhere.

Everyone, even in Louisiana, prepares shrimp Creole a little differently, but, all versions all contain the "Holy Trinity (celery, onion and green bell pepper), some sort of tomato product, "heat", to taste, in the form of cayenne pepper or cayenne pepper sauce, spices common to Creole fare, and, the best quality shrimp available to you. Some versions are very thin and brothy, others are slightly-thickened (but not to the point of being stewlike like etoufee), and, most times it gets topped with rice.

What's the difference between shrimp Creole & shrimp etouffee?

IMG_8901^Shrimp Creole is "soupy".  It is simmered & typically unthickened.

A bit about soup:  If you've simmered meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in seasoned water-, wine-, juice- or milk- based liquid, you've made soup.  Soups can be thin, chunky, smooth, and, thickened after the fact (by adding potatoes, rice, beans, vegetables, or, using a mixture of cream or water mixed with cornstarch or flour) to a stew-like consistency.  Soups (there are exceptions) tend to be refined and light tasting, using shreds of meat and/or small diced ingredients, or, pureed to a thin or thick, smooth consistency.  They can be prepared in less than 1-1 1/2 hours, and sometimes, as little as 15-30 minutes.  Soups can be served as an appetizer, side-dish or main course, but, are always served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon.

IMG_8887A bit about shrimp Creole:  Shrimp creole is a dish of shrimp simmered in a brothy tomato-based sauce rather than shrimp stock (typical Creole dishes do not contain broth, stock or roux).  It's simmered until the shrimp are tender and just cooked through, although I have seen versions that add tomato paste to give the sauce a bit more body.  In this case of this particular shrimp dish, the experts of NOLA recommend using high-quality, medium-sized, bited-sized (spoon-sized) shrimp (31-35 count), which allows the bold-flavored sauce to work its magic in each and every bite you take, so:  save those colossals and jumbos for the barbecue grill or stuffing with crabmeat.  As for the Holy Trinity (the celery, onion and green bell pepper),  I've eaten versions where the veggies are very-small to small-diced for a more refined presentation, and, versions where the veggies are medium to large diced for a more rustic look.  I prefer the small dice but that choice is yours.

IMG_5860^Shrimp etoufee is "stewy".  It is thickened at the start using a roux.

A bit about stew:  If you've cooked/sauteed your meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in seasoned oil, butter or fat, then added just enough of flour and liquid or thickened liquid to it to bring it to an almost gravy-like consistency, you've made a stew.  Stews tend to be full of chunky ingredients and full of bold herb and/or spice flavors.  Stews are hearty and filling and are almost always served as the main course.  Stews, because they require a longer, slower cooking time than a soup, sometimes 3-4 hours or longer, often in a tightly-covered vessel, are great for tenderizing tough cuts of meat.  Stews, while usually served in a bowl, can be spooned over a starch (couscous, rice, potatoes, etc) and turned into a knife and fork meal.

IMG_5803A bit about etouffee (ay-TOO-fay): One of New Orlean's hallmark dishes, it is basically a thick, spicy, maindish shellfish stew served over cooked white rice*.  It is neither brothy nor soupy.  Originally a dish found in the Bayou and backwaters of Louisiana, it was introduced to New Orleans restaurants about 80 years ago, and, nowadays, many restaurants will tell you it is the most popular dish on their menu.

In French, the word "etouffee" means "smothered" or "suffocated".  Etouffee recipes are found in both Cajun and Creole cuisines and are seasoned as such, with either Cajun or Creole seasoning.  The smothery sauce is made with a flour-and-butter-based golden brown roux, the "Holy Trinity" (onion, celery and green pepper), seafood stock, and, one type of shellfish (crawfish, shrimp or crab), not a combination of shellfish.  Fresh or canned tomatoes are optional.  In New Orleans, crawfish etouffee is classic.  Here in the 'burbs, shrimp does nicely.

I can't wait to eat succulent, spicy shrimp Creole for dinner!

IMG_88412  pounds medium shrimp (31-35 count), peeled & deveined, tails removed

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons olive oil

1  generous cup small-diced celery

1  generous cup small-diced onion

1  generous cup small-diced green bell pepper

2-3  large garlic cloves, minced or run through a press

2  whole bay leaves

2  tablespoons Creole seasoning

2  14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2  cup white wine

2  teaspoons Lousiana Gold hot sauce, to taste, or your favorite cayenne pepper sauce

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1  cup minced, fresh parsley, 1/2 for stirring into shrimp Creole and 1/2 cup for garnishing finished portions

3 cups, uncooked extra-long-grained white rice, 6 cups steamed extra-long-grain white rice, for topping finished portions, 1 cup per serving

IMG_8845 IMG_8847 IMG_8851 IMG_8856 IMG_8859 IMG_8860~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, over low heat, melt the butter into the olive oil.  When the butter begins to foam, add the onions, adjust heat to sauté, and continue to cook until onions are beginning to brown, about 6 minutes.  Add the celery, bell peppers and garlic.  Stir in the bay leaves and Creole seasoning. Continue to cook until celery and bell peppers are nicely softened, about 3 minutes.

IMG_8863 IMG_8865 IMG_8870 IMG_8871 IMG_8874 IMG_8877~Step 2.  Add the diced tomatoes, white wine, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and half of the parsley.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook, about 6 minutes.  Add the shrimp.  When the mixture returns to a simmer, cover the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow shrimp Creole to sit, covered, on the warm stovetop 15-30 minutes.

IMG_8880Portion & top with steamed rice & a sprinkling of parsley.

IMG_8890Shrimp Creole:  The King Creole of Shrimp Dishes:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; large slotted spoon

IMG_5689 IMG_5622Cook's Note: Creole-style rice is an artform in Nola.  You can find my recipe for ~ Commander's Kitchen's "Boiled Rice" ~, in  Category 4.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melaie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/04/2016

~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad ~

IMG_8820These yummy little appetizer-snacks, like my deviled egg creations, go to a lot of Summer picnics and a few early Fall tailgates too.  The best way to describe them is individual and portable portions of chop-chop salad, and, most people can't keep their hands off them.  They can contain anything your heart desires, as long as the ingredients play well together and are chopped into small morsels prior to judiciously drizzling (not drenching), with a cuisine-appropriate dressing or vinaigrette just prior to spooning the salad into the shells and serving.

Since I cook all sorts of cuisines, sometimes my chop-chop salad stuffed shells take on an Asian twist, an Italian flair, a Mediterranean tang or an Eastern European earthiness.  In the case of today's chop-chop, it's a colorful combination of healthy ingredients to enjoy this evening while sitting on our deck watching the Fourth of July fireworks display here in Happy Valley.

IMG_8799The "chop-chop" is a colorful melange of "healthy harmony"!

IMG_7158<  This is a photo of my ~ Chicken, Shrimp or Steak Chop-Chop Taco Salad ~ and you can find the recipe in Categories 2, 13 or 19.

Try not to confuse "chop-chop" with composed salads of chopped ingredients that are meticulously lined up side-by-side (like the famous Cobb salad), or, carefully layered.  The basic, "chop-chop" is a flavor-packed mixture of cooked protein, fresh or marinated vegetables, crispy lettuce or a mix of greens, and, an optional herb or two.  The list of optional "toppings" (that's what they're called when ordering at a chopped-salad bar) is lengthy:   cheeses, eggs, beans, lentils, dried fruits, crunchy nuts, seeds, toasts or, croutons.  Chop-chop salad can be served as a starter course, a side-dish or the entree, but, unlike its cousin, the tossed salad, where you pick and choose each forkful:  

A well-conceived chopped salad is like eating a sandwich sans the bread.  The components are evenly distributed and they're not overdressed.  There's a taste of everything in every bite.

IMG_8808Every culture that eats salad has their own version of the chop-chop salad. Chopped salads have been around for a very long time, but, they became epidemically popular here in the NE in 2001 when the chain Chop't  launched in NYC. As a salad lover, I hopped on-board, and, if a restaurant had a chop-chop salad on the menu, I ordered it in place of the my usual favorites.  As it is goes with many things, the foodie powers-that-be couldn't leave a good thing alone. Instead of enjoying a carefully-chopped, flavor-packed, colorful melange of "healthy harmony", I found myself eating over-chopped mounds of unappetizing ingredients -- they looked like they were run over by a lawnmower.

Part One:  Cooking the Pasta Shells

IMG_68251  12-ounce box jumbo pasta shells  

Note:  The box contains more pasta shells than you will use, by more than a few, however, each box contains some that are cracked or broken, and, during the cooking process, a few more are going to rip or tear.  I know, it seems wasteful (though they're still edible), but, it is necessary to cook the whole box. 

IMG_6845IMG_6838Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Gently add the pasta shells, by hand, 5-6 at a time, and cook until al dente, about 10-12 minutes. Drain into a colander and immediately rinse with very cold water.  Rinse again, and again, until shells are cold to the touch.

IMG_6853Step 2.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan (or a similar sized plate) with paper towels.  Pick out 36+ of the prettiest shells (those without rips or tears) and place them, in a single layer, opened side down, on the pan.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside to drain of excess moisture, about 15-30 minutes. While the shells drain:

Part Two:  Chop-chopping the Salad Ingredients

Shrimp is the star here, so, you'll only find crispy, crunchy, subtly-flavored salad "toppings" included in today's mixture -- no overpowering cheese please, and, my favorite store-bought brand of Light Italian dressing (Wishbone Light), so as to enhance, not overpower the shrimp. Trust me when I tell you to use Wishbone Light -- it's emulsified and nicely seasoned which means it won't separate over time like a homemade vinaigrette will inevitably do.  Trust me.

IMG_87772  pounds jumbo shrimp (21-25 count), peeled, deveined, tails removed, cooked, drained, chilled and chopped into small 1/4"-1/2" pieces, about 4 cups of small-chopped cooked shrimp (Note:  For complete instructions on how to perfectly cook shrimp, read my recipe for ~ Once upon a time... A Tale about Shrimp Cocktail ~ in Categories 1, 11, 14, 16 or 21.)

1  pound large broccoli florets, blanched for 3 minutes in boiling, salted water, about 2 cups small florets removed from the stems of 1 pound blanched florets

IMG_87871 pint (11-12 ounces) grape tomatoes, small chopped (I cut them into eighths), about 2 cups small-chopped grape tomatoes

1  2 1/4-ounce can sliced black olives, well-drained, about 1/2 cup

2  ounces yellow or sweet onion, about 1/2 cup finely-diced onion

6  ounces iceberg or romaine lettuce, shaved into small chards, 3 cups chiffonade of lettuce

1  cup Wishbone Light Italian dressing 

IMG_8788 IMG_8795 IMG_8802 IMG_8805~Step 1.  Prep all of the ingredients as directed above.  Place them all in a large bowl and add the dressing.  Using a pair of salad servers, gently toss until all of the pretty vegetables and shrimp are thoroughly combined and lightly coated in the dressing.  Using a tablespoon, scoop into the cooked shells.  Serve now, or, cover and refrigerate for 1-8 hours prior to serving.

Serve now, or, cover & refrigerate 1-8 hours prior to serving:

IMG_8810Tip:  Put your deviled egg plate to a different use this Summer!

IMG_8827Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad:  Recipe yields 3 1/2-4 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; paper towels; plastic wrap; cutting board; chef's knife; salad servers; tablespoon; deviled egg plate (optional)

IMG_6901Cook's Note:  Next to deviled eggs, everyone loves "cold salad stuffed into a pasta shell" recipes.  For another one of my year-round favorites, click into Categories 1, 11, 14 or 20 for ~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/Spicy Crab Cocktail ~.  

This crab-and-mayonaise-dressed recipe pairs so well with today's shrimp-and-vinaigrette-dressed recipe, for really large gatherings, I make them both and serve them side-by-side.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

07/02/2016

~ Nana's "Overnight" PA Deutsch Pepper Cabbage ~

IMG_8758From the land of Longhorn-colby cheese and ring bologna, I bring you pepper cabbage.  If you identify with both the cheese and the bologna, you have roots in or some sort of affiliation with the Pennsylvania Deutsch community, and you don't have to be told:  do not over-think this or any pepper cabbage recipe.  It is simple, to the point, and, monochromatic (a big word meaning "consisting of one color or hue"):  finely-chopped green cabbage and green pepper, tossed in a sweet and sour, sugar, vinegar and black-pepper-laced dressing, then macerated overnight in the refrigerator.  As the name indicates, it's a mixture of cabbage and peppers, and, while some add a bit of celery or onion to it, Nana did not, and, she disapproved of adding red bell peppers and/or colorful carrots too.  Period.  Nana was Pennsylvania Deutsch and this is her recipe.

You say Pennsylvania Dutch, We say Pennsylvania Deutsch!

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bI am here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch-style cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist".  They were fleeing the mountains of Switzerland and southern German to avoid religious persecution and established several communities in the Lehigh Valley.  Why?  Thank William Penn for his free-thinking, open-door, equal-opportunity-for-all of any religion or race politics.  Pennsylvania set an example for the other colonies, who all had established an offical "state" religion. Pennsylvania.  The first to welcome people of all beliefs and walks of life?  You betcha!

IMG_8773The cabbage & the peppers must be:  finely-chopped, almost minced.

There is no in between -- finely-chopped, almost minced -- it's the key to this cold, crunchy, addictive side-salad.  If you have a food processor, you can do this in minutes, but you can't do either vegetable in one big batch or you will end up with watery mush.  Instead, process each one in small batches that require as few rapid on-off pulses, as necessary, to get them finely-chopped, then, place each of the finely-chopped veggies on a paper-towel lined plate for about an hour in the refrigerator, to allow the paper to absorb excess moisture from the vegetables.

IMG_8711For the green cabbage and green bell peppers:

1  head green cabbage, as close to 2 pounds as possible, cored and coarsely chopped (about 8 cups finely-chopped cabbage)

2  large green peppers, as close to 1 total pound as possible, coarsely chopped, seeded and ribbed (about 2 cups finely-chopped green bell pepper)

Tip from Mel:  If you have a kitchen scale, use it. Weighing the cabbage and peppers makes this recipe virtually foolproof.

IMG_8716 IMG_8719 IMG_8721 IMG_8733~Step 1.  Cut the cabbage into 4 quarters, remove the core from each quarter, then coarsely chop each quarter.  Working in 4 batches, place one quarter of the coarsely-chopped cabbage in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 30 rapid on-off pulses, process to a fine chop.  Transfer cabbage to a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper and a few layers of paper towels and refrigerate for about an hour.

IMG_8725 IMG_8730~ Step 2.  Prep the green bell peppers as directed, and, in two batches, using a series of 15 rapid on-off pulses, process them to a fine chop too.  Place chopped peppers on a paper towel lined plate and refrigerate for about an hour.

IMG_8739For the sweet and sour dressing:

1  cup apple cider vinegar

1  cup water

1  teaspoon celery seed

3/4  cup granulated sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

~ Step 1.  Place the cabbage and peppers in a large bowl.  In a 1-quart measuring container, measure and stir all of the dressing ingredients together.

IMG_8743 IMG_8746~ Step 2. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and green peppers, and, using a large spoon or rubber spatula, give it a thorough stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate, several hours or overnight, taking the time to give it a stir whenever it's convenient.  Overnight is best.

Beware: This super-simple super-side-salad is super-addictive! 

IMG_8760Nana's "Overnight" PA Deutsch Pepper Cabbage:  Recipe yields about 10 cups.  If you were buying this by the pound at your local deli, which is how it is sold in a lot of stores, you would be purchasing 2, 1 pound, 12 ounce containers of pepper cabbage.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); food processor (optional); 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; paper towels; 1-quart measuring container, spoon; large spoon or rubber spatula; plastic wrap

IMG_1151Cook's Note: Way back when I was eighteen, Nana was my fiance's grandmother, and, she was as PA Deutsch as it gets.  She was a marvelous cook, baker and cross-stitcher, and, she taught me how to make many wonderful things, including: ~ Nana's Bare Bones PA Deutsch Chicken Pot Pie ~. It's in Categories 2 & 3.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)